In the Pursuit of Answers

Is it enough to be able to find answers? In this day and age, is the challenge really even finding the answer? Answers have a way of helping us to feel knowledgable and accomplished. What happens if the answer is ‘wrong’?

As teachers, we experiment, research, explore and challenge in the pursuit of answers. Sometimes we may even be striving in the hopes of finding the holycheck grail of answers to a multitude of educational ills. However, in our own pursuit of answers we can be lost and this is often transferred into the learning space. Students may be deceived into believing that the answer is all that matters. Students need to be able to develop habits of learning and questioning, in the understanding that knowledge cannot be force-fed.

A disadvantage to students in suggesting that the answer is an end result, might be that they may not seek to understand how the answer plays into their own world. ‘Correctly’ identifying a metaphor in a passage of text simply works to highlight that a student knows the answer. Do they recognise the significance of this knowledge and understand the way in which it interacts with their world?

How might we focus more on helping ourselves and our students develop habits of learning and questioning? It is important for students to be able to identify, recognise and deduce accurately bodies of information, but delivered in isolation they are effectively mining for answers.

In ‘Can a school be built on questions?’ Warren Berger shares five learning skills, or “habits of mind,” matched up with corresponding question:

  • Evidence: How do we know what’s true or false? What evidence counts?
  • Viewpoint: How might this look if we stepped into other shoes, or looked at it from a different direction?
  • Connection: Is there a pattern? Have we seen something like this before?
  • Conjecture: What if it were different?
  • Relevance: Why does this matter?

Finding an answer can be hugely beneficial to developing understanding but I wonder if at the heart of what we are trying to achieve, is greater understanding. Understanding how to question will lead to a self-perpetuating pursuit of answers.

The teaching of nationally assessed standards is all too often driven by the need for students to produce the ‘right’ answer. In most cases it is difficult to ascertain who is driving. In Aotearoa New Zealand, we are certainly more fortunate than most, in that NCEA (National Certificate of Educational Achievement) allows the flexibility to develop the requisite habits of learning and questioning. The question is, do we avail ourselves the opportunities afforded to us?

Deborah Meier asked “what if our schools could train students to be better lifelong learners and better adapters to change, by enabling them to be better questioners?”


5 Ways to Help Your Students Become Better Questioners

The Quest to Ask Better Questions

Can a school be built on questions?

The Right Thing, Said Once


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